Daphne at Grimeborn

As with so many Strauss operas, Daphne's one redeeming feature is its end


Richard Strauss’s Daphne is one of the operas he wrote during the excruciatingly long Indian summer of his composing life, where he seems, in one work after another, to be looking for a subject worthy of his skills, and only… Read more

Miah Persson in Le Nozze di Figaro (Photo: gordoneszter)

Opera in Edinburgh: even the best Stravinsky can’t beat mediocre Mozart


Is Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress anything more than an exercise in style? ‘I will lace each aria into a tight corset,’ Stravinsky told Nicolas Nabokov, and for most of three acts that’s pretty much what he does, deftly fitting W.H.… Read more

Animal magic: François Piolino as the Frog in ‘L’enfant et les sortilèges’

Glyndebourne’s Ravel double bill comes close to perfection


When I saw the first performance of this production of Ravel’s two operas at Glyndebourne three years ago, I thought it was the nearest thing to operatic perfection I had witnessed. But this revival is even finer. Whereas I concluded… Read more

An abundance of spectacle: Iestyn Davies as David, with Sophie Bevan as Michal

Startling and sublime - even the candles got a round of applause: Glyndebourne’s Saul reviewed


Caius Gabriel Cibber’s statues of ‘Melancholy’ and ‘Raving Madness’, their eyes staring blindly into the void, petrified in torment, once posed on top of the gate to Bedlam. In 1739, when Handel’s dramatic oratorio Saul was first performed, you could… Read more

Christopher Turner as Artemidoro, the romantic lead transformed into a raving hippy in Trofonio’s ‘cave’

Don’t listen to Amadeus - this Salieri opera is better than Mozart


Magical transformations are a commonplace of opera. We see our heroes turned into animals, trees, statues; witness wild beasts turned suddenly gentle and even the dead brought back to life, with scarcely a raised eyebrow. But opera’s greatest metamorphosis —… Read more

Lakmé at Opera Holland Park (Photo: Robert Workman)

Geoff Brown longs for more eye candy and less Harry Houdini at Opera Holland Park’s Lakmé


These are nervous times at the opera. When should we expect the gratuitous rape scene? Will the director relocate the action to a Croydon laundrette? Who might be booed, and for how long? With Opera Holland Park’s Lakmé, however, almost… Read more

Christine Rice (Lucretia) and Duncan Rock (Tarquinius)  in Fiona Shaw's Glyndebourne production of Britten's Rape of Lucretia

When is a rape not a rape? Fiona Shaw's Rape of Lucretia at Glyndebourne reviewed


When is a rape not a rape? It’s an unsettling question — far more so than anything offered up by the current headline-grabbing William Tell at the Royal Opera House — and one that lies beneath the meticulous dramatic archaeology… Read more

John Osborn as Arnold in the Royal Opera's controversial new William Tell. Photo: ROH/ Clive Barda

The gang rape was the least offensive thing about Royal Opera's new William Tell


There’s no such thing as a tasteful rape scene — or there certainly shouldn’t be. It’s an act of grossest violation, of primal violence. It’s also a reality — and a growing one at that — of contemporary warfare, a… Read more

Rachel Nicholls and Peter Wedd in Tristan und Isolde

The finest Tristan since Siegfried Jerusalem


Which of Wagner’s mature dramas is the most challenging, for performers and spectators? The one you’re seeing at the moment, seems to be the answer for me. The better I know them, the more apprehensive I get about whether I… Read more

Flight at Opera Holland Park (Photo: Robert Workman)

Hans Werner Henze: the Ed Miliband of opera


We opera critics love gazing into crystal balls. We’re particularly good at discovering Ed Milibands and backing them to the hilt. Postwar opera is full of them. Take Hans Werner Henze. He was considered the future his entire life. Yet… Read more

The Queen of Spades (Photo: Donald Cooper)

ENO’s Queen of Spades: I wanted to grab David Alden’s production by the neck and shake out its silly clutter


The opera director David Alden has never been one to tread the straight and narrow. Something kinky would emerge, I’m sure, even if he directed the Queen’s televised Christmas message. So matching him up at English National Opera with the… Read more

Stéphanie d’Oustrac (Carmen) and Pavel Cernoch (Don José) in ‘Carmen’ at Glyndebourne

Was Glyndebourne right to revive Donizetti's Poliuto? No, says Michael Tanner


It’s been a busy operatic week, with a nearly great concert performance of Parsifal in Birmingham on Sunday (reviewed by Anna Picard in last week’s Spectator), Carmen at the Coliseum on Wednesday, Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne on Thursday and Carmen,… Read more

Peter Pan (Photo: Clive Barda)

Half-brilliant, half-bewildering: Peter Pan at Welsh National Opera reviewed


In Beryl Bainbridge’s novel An Awfully Big Adventure the producer Meredith Potter issues a doughty injunction on the subject of staging Peter Pan: ‘I am not qualified to judge whether the grief his mother felt on the death of his… Read more

Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Do you see me laughing? Mike Leigh’s Pirates of Penzance at the ENO reviewed


Forget the pollsters and political pundits — English National Opera called it first and called it Right when it programmed Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance to open just days after the general election. Who else is the target… Read more

Inside Apollo’s head: designer Steffen Aarfing following Szymanowski’s stage instructions

‘Bewitching’: Krol Roger at the Royal Opera reviewed


‘What gives your lies such power?’ asks the bewildered Sicilian leader in Szymanowski’s opera Krol Roger. The question is addressed to a charismatic shepherd, on trial for propagating a lascivious new religion of unbridled sensuality. Roger’s wife, Roxana, has already… Read more

Prudence Sanders (Adina) & Caroline Kennedy (Gianetta) in OperaUpClose's production of Donizetti's The Elixir of Love. Photo: Christopher Tribble

OperaUpClose’s production of Elixir of Love is by far the best update of an opera Michael Tanner has ever seen


Three staples of the Italian repertoire, performed and seen in very different circumstances, have confirmed my view that they deserve their place in the repertoire, however many other works by their composers or contemporaries may be unearthed. I saw OperaUpClose’s… Read more

Il Turco in Italia (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera House, reviewed: bring sunglasses


Big slats of orange, burning yellows, an Adriatic in electric blue: I wish I’d bought my sunglasses to the Royal Opera’s latest revival of Il turco in Italia. Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s production of Rossini’s opera buffo first burst… Read more


ENO's Between Worlds at the Barbican reviewed: too respectful


This week, some 200 years since Goya’s ‘The Disasters of War’, almost 80 years after Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, and over 50 since Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer for his photograph of a self-immolating Buddhist monk, the British media found itself questioning… Read more

Graham Vick's production of Tippett's The Ice Break

Tippett’s triumphant failure: Birmingham Opera Company’s The Ice Break reviewed


The Ice Break is Michael Tippett’s fourth opera, first produced at Covent Garden in 1977 and rarely produced anywhere since, though there is an excellent recording of it. Its brevity (75 minutes) rather took the wind out of the Royal… Read more

Portrait of Handel by Balthasar Denner

Why we should revel in the empty virtuosity of Handel's pasticcios


Before the jukebox musical, back when Mamma Mia!, Jersey Boys and Viva Forever! were still dollar-shaped glints in an as-yet-unborn producer’s eye, there was the pasticcio opera. Literally a musical ‘pastry’ or ‘pie’, these brought together arias from different operas,… Read more

Left to right: Peter Hoare (Fatty), Anne Sofie von Otter (Leocadia Begbick), Willard White (Trinity Moses)

Royal Opera's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny review: far too well behaved


Brecht/Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny was premièred in 1930, Auden/Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in 1951. Twenty-one years separate them, but it seems, as one looks back, enormously more than that. Think of 1994 and now, no… Read more

Identity crisis: Rachele Gilmore as Alice

Alice in Wonderland at the Barbican reviewed: too much miaowing


Charles Lutwidge Dodgson loved little girls. He loved to tell them stories, he loved to feed them jam, he loved to set them puzzles, and he loved to take their photographs. On 25 March, 1863, he composed a list of… Read more

Julia Bullock and Noah Stewart in The Indian Queen Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

ENO's Indian Queen reviewed: Peter Sellars's bold new production needs editing


When is an opera not an opera? How much can you strip and peel away, or extend and graft on to the genre, before it simply ceases to be itself? These questions dominated a week in which directors turned vivisectors… Read more

Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi Photo: Bill Cooper

Opera North's Gianni Schicchi and La vida breve reviewed: a flawless double helping of verismo


Is there a more beautiful aria than ‘O mio babbino caro’ from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi? There are more overwhelming moments in opera, to be sure, but few arias can rival it for the way its beauty kicks you in the… Read more


La Donna del Lago, Metropolitan Opera, review: Colm Toibin on a night of masterful singing


La Donna del Lago, based on a poem by Sir Walter Scott, is one of the nine serious, dramatic operas that Rossini wrote for Teatro San Carlo in Naples between 1815 and 1822. At the time the opera was produced… Read more

Starry night: Iain Patterson as Sachs and Andrew Shore as Beckmesser in a triumphant ‘Mastersingers of Nuremberg’

Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO, review: ‘a triumph’


ENO’s new production of Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg is a triumph about which only the most niggling of reservations can be set. Every aspect — orchestral, vocal, production — works in harmony to effect one of the richest, most… Read more

The UK premiere of Einstein on the Beach at the Barbican Theatre in 2012. Photo: Lucie Jansch

Why we should say farewell to the ENO


It’s easy to forget what a mess of an art form opera once was. For its first 100 years it had no name, it had no fixed address, it didn’t really know who it was or what it was doing.… Read more

The Marriage of Figaro Photo: Clive Barda

An artistic crime is committed at the Royal Festival Hall


In one of the more peculiar concerts that I have been to at the Royal Festival Hall, Vladimir Jurowski conducted excerpts from Das Rheingold in the first half of the programme, and Rachmaninov’s little-known opera The Miserly Knight in the… Read more